Two Birds One Stone: Sustainable Public Transport As A Catalyst For Improved Health & Wellbeing
On the lecture
The fifth lecture, by Alan Wann, introduced the paradigm of sustainable transport, discussing the evolution of urban sustainability, attitudes towards urban mobility in major European countries, precedent countries for good public transport, solutions etc.
It used to be that the term “sustainability” was but a concept used to describe only using natural resources, however, today we are reaching ever closer to the environmental endgame. According to Our Common Future, sustainable development is defined as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ (Jarvie, 2016). One area for improvement is transportation, the largest sector in the UK since 2016 and responsible for producing 24% of the UK’s total emissions in 2020, 91% of which derives from domestic transport from road vehicles and the biggest contributors being the automobile, amounting to 52% of the emissions from domestic transport (GOV.UK, n.d.).
Figure 1: Greenhouse gas emissions by sector, 2020, by proportion
Research in transport has always been focused on factors like length of journey or access, however, the truth is travel is inevitable regardless of one’s mode of choice. Apart from facilitating access to services and other opportunities, transport has also played a significant role in supporting or even hindering social connections, in turn, influencing health (Cooper et al., 2019).
Sustainable Transport vs Sustainable Transportation System
Sustainable transport, sometimes known as “green transport” is ‘any form of transport that does not use or rely on dwindling natural resources. Instead it relies on renewable or regenerated energy rather than fossil fuels that have a finite life expectancy. For this reason it is said to have a low or a negative effect on the environment since it makes use of energy sources that are sustainable.’ (earthtimes.org, n.d.) A “sustainable transportation system” on the other hand, according to the European Union Council of Ministers of Transport (EUCMT), define it as one that ‘allows the basic access and development needs of individuals, companies and society to be met safely and in a manner consistent with human and ecosystem health, and promotes equity within and between successive generations.’ (European Commission – European Commission, 2020).
The link between transport and health
Figure 2: Positive impacts on health through sustainable public transport
The UK is currently facing a myriad of health-related issues, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease, conditions linked to physical inactivity. Transport playsa key role in providing access to health services like GP surgeries, hospitals and more, services that are particularly important for medical practitioners, elderly ordisabled people who live in rural areas, as public transport might be their only link. As a result of increased demand for the automobile, primarily likened for its convenience and efficiency, wellbeing has also seen a severe decline especially in the UK. It allows people to connect and maintain relationships.
Bridging the gap between the automobile and pedestrian
Figure 3: Florence (left) and an Atlanta interchange (right) at the same scale
It is clear that the rise of the automobile has taken away what it means to have a healthy lifestyle and countries across the world have seen a surge in demand. As this article has thus far discussed ways in which transport can directly impact health and wellbeing, simply concluding that introducing sustainable alternatives to the antagonist of this narrative, the automobile, is far too simple. Though EV cars are a proven solution, it is a short term one and there is still much to consider during the manufacture and lifecycle like raw materials and electricity. The automobile can no doubt offer great convenience and mobility, but can impede upon the mobility of others by marginalizing road users and discouraging walking or cycling simply due to the way the built environment is designed to favour cars.
The right planning approach can encourage a shift towards a wider range of transportation modes that can contribute to a sustainable transportation system. Transport interventions therefore have the potential to mitigate health problems borne of physical inactivity, and in turn reduce health declination, including:
Having read much of the discourse in sustainable transport, I have realized that perhaps laziness and lack of initiative is the root of many issues. We require a third party to pave the way for us so that access to essential facilities is convenient. This might be achievable in some cities due to having a pre-existing dense urban fabric, however, for cities that don’t have this, it is difficult. It can be argued that placing more buildings in unoccupied spaces could solve this, but this is counterproductive seeing as buildings use 40% of global energy, essentially taking two steps backwards to make one step forward.
Cooper, E., Gates, S., Grollman, C., Mayer, M., Davis, B. and Bankiewicz, U. (2019). Transport, health, and wellbeing: An evidence review for the Department for Transport Prepared for: Department for Transport Prepared for: The Department for Transport. [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/847884/Transport__health_and_wellbeing.pdf.
earthtimes.org. (n.d.). Sustainable Transport | The Earth Times | Encyclopaedia. [online] Available at: https://earthtimes.org/encyclopaedia/environmental-issues/sustainable-transport/ [Accessed 10 Nov. 2022].
European Commission – European Commission. (2020). Press corner. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/PRES_01_131.
GOV.UK. (n.d.). The second cycling and walking investment strategy (CWIS2). [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-second-cycling-and-walking-investment-strategy/the-second-cycling-and-walking-investment-strategy-cwis2.
GOV.UK. (n.d.). Transport and environment statistics 2022. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/transport-and-environment-statistics-2022/transport-and-environment-statistics-2022.
Jarvie, M.E. (2016). Brundtland Report | publication by World Commission on Environment and Development. In: Encyclopædia Britannica. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Brundtland-Report.
Mihaylova, N. (2021). How transport offers a route to better health | The Health Foundation. [online] www.health.org.uk. Available at: https://www.health.org.uk/publications/long-reads/how-transport-offers-a-route-to-better-health.